No, the Federal Government is Not Like a Shark

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In a response to Jonah Goldberg, Charles Cooke admits that sharks aren’t actually all that dangerous:

Still, it’s best to presume that every single shark you meet is going to eat you. My view is that, because a shark can eat you, and has eaten people in the past, you should have, as per the definition that you provided, ”suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification” — or, rather, of sharks and their actions

….The bottom line is that we should treat government as we should sharks: As George Washington is supposed to have said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Even he couldn’t have imagined how dangerous and fearful governments could become.

My problem is that I’m not sure that the alternative to paranoia is reason. Is the way in which most people trust “reasonable”? No, not in the slightest. If people are going to be unreasonable — and they certainly are – it’s better that they’re unreasonably scared….There are no black helicopters and there may never be any black helicopters. But isn’t it positive that people are worried about them?

Well, I agree with Cooke about sharks. But there’s a pretty important missing point here: for most of us, there’s zero upside to palling around with sharks and zero downside to being unreasonably scared of them. So sure: you should avoid sharks at all costs. Why wouldn’t you?

Needless to say, the same is not true of government, no matter how much conservatives like to think otherwise. It provides many useful services! I like the fact that police keep me safe, paved roads let me go places, pensions and healthcare are available to me when I get old, and government agencies keep my air, water, and food tolerably clean and safe. There are genuine tradeoffs to be made here, which means that reason really is the only non-insane way to evaluate what kind of government we want. Even coming from National Review, I’m a little surprised that apparently someone needs to make this rather obvious point.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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